short stories, Writing

Cracks in the Pavement

I felt like I was stuck in time as I sat in my chair, watching all the different people walk past, pulling suitcases or chattering to their friends and family members. It intrigued me that each and every one of these people had a different story to tell.

“What do you think his story is?” My sister, Grace, asked, pointing at a man who was definitely in some sort of hurry. He was dressed in a navy-blue suit and had a stethoscope hanging from his neck.

I rested my chin in my hands, examining him closely. “He’s a doctor,” I said matter-of-factly. “He’s running late for an important meeting. A meeting that decides if he’s going to be put on the surgical team or not. A trial, you could say. That’s why he’s holding his phone. He’s waiting for a call from his Uber to let him know that it’s ready and waiting outside. Ready to take him to his meeting. He’s nervous. That’s why he’s biting his nails.”

Grace nodded her head at me, giving me two claps. “I’m impressed. You’ve stepped up your game, bro.”

I smiled at her. “Your turn. What about her?” I pointed to a young woman sitting across from us, outside Gate 21. She had bright red hair and wore lipstick to match it. She was beautiful, except for the mascara-marked tear stains running down her cheeks.

Grace pushed a strand of her dark hair behind her ear, her brows furrowing as she thought. “Qantas is supposed to be landing a plane coming from Iraq at Gate 21. That woman’s boyfriend is on that plane, only it was supposed to be here an hour ago. She’s holding her phone, waiting for a phone call or text message – any indication that could let her know that he’s okay. She’s crying because she knows in her heart that the plane isn’t coming.”

I stared at Grace, a little in shock. “I give up. You’re too good at this.”

She smiled, showing her straight pearly whites. “Since when are you a quitter, Jason? One more…” She scanned the airport, trying to find a person who looked like they could hold a good story. She’d always said that you could see it in a person’s eyes if they were hiding something. “How about…Aunt Ruth!”

“Aunt Ruth?” I questioned, confusion overcoming me as Grace shrieked, jumped up and sprinted across the airport. Only when I saw her throw her arms around a familiar looking woman did I realise what she meant.

“Jason!” My aunt greeted me with a kiss on the cheek when I walked over to her. “My, you’ve gotten tall, I can barely reach up there anymore!” She rubbed a hand through my hair. I hated it when she did that.

“Well, I am 18. I think that’s about the time when you stop growing,” I said, forcing a smile.

Although Aunt Ruth was a sweet woman, we’d never really gotten along. She’d always preferred Grace. Pretty, fun-loving, easy-to-get-along-with Grace. Maybe it was because I preferred to stay inside rather than going walking with them, or because I was more reserved and introverted than Grace was. Whatever it was, it had always been that way, and it didn’t seem like it was going to change any time soon.

“Your muscles will come in handy to pick up my suitcases,” Aunt Ruth called as she walked away from me with her arm around Grace. “I didn’t pack lightly.”

When we’d collected the luggage – Aunt Ruth had been dead serious when she said she hadn’t packed lightly – we took the elevator to the car park.

“I hope you didn’t park too far away,” she called as we walked through aisle D. “Next time get closer to the entrance.”

I refrained from rolling my eyes, and instead just nodded without looking at her. When I’d finally loaded the heavy suitcases into the back of my ute, I opened the passenger door for Aunt Ruth as Grace got in the back.

As soon as we pulled out of the parking block, big, heavy raindrops splattered on the windscreen. Flicking on the wipers, I pulled into the exit lane and turned the radio up. No sooner had I turned the volume up, Aunt Ruth decided to turn it down.

“What is that screeching?” she commented. “Let’s talk. We’ve got a two-hour drive, and I want to hear about what’s been going on in the lives of my gorgeous niece and nephew.”

“Our lives are boring,” Grace replied. “Tell us one of your stories, Aunt Ruth. That should pass the time.”

I immediately wished Grace had just told Aunt Ruth about school. Anything was better than listening to one of her famous stories.

“What a great idea!” Aunt Ruth exclaimed, folding her pink manicured hands in her lap. “I’ve got a great one.”

I rested my elbow on the door as Grace leaned in to hear Aunt Ruth’s story.

“Did you two know that when someone’s heart breaks, so does a piece of our world?” she began, looking at Grace in the rear-view mirror.

“Here we go,” I muttered.

“This creates fissures, valleys, and even cracks in the pavement.”

Grace looked intrigued, her bright eyes completely captured by Aunt Ruth’s words. “What sort of heartbreak causes a crack in the pavement, and what causes a valley?” Grace asked.

“A crack in the pavement could be caused by a misunderstanding, and a valley could be caused by cheating on your significant other,” Aunt Ruth explained. “But the story I’m going to tell you has nothing to do with valleys or cracks in the pavement. This is the story of how the Grand Canyon was formed, just over 20 years ago…”

3rd of April 1997

Rose Ailer was an ordinary young woman. She had straight blonde hair, blue eyes, and a heart full of secrets. She’d lived her whole life as a shy, introverted character. She didn’t enjoy social events, and she’d never had very many friends during school. She’d never received any kind of attention from any male ever, or been invited to very many birthday parties as a child. Instead, Rose had collected flowers and read books. She’d drawn pictures of the moon on a bright night, and the ocean on a sunny day. Until the 3rd of April 1997, she’d been content. But on this day, something inside her snapped, and it all began to change.

It happened on an ordinary Thursday afternoon, in an ordinary coffee shop, at an ordinary table by the window. Rose was doing what she always did – sipping her chamomile tea as she continued to read one of her favourite books. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Rose could read and reread that book for the rest of her life. She loved it almost as much as she loved flowers. However, on this particular Thursday, something extraordinary happened. Rose was interrupted in the middle of a sip of chamomile tea by loud footsteps tearing up the silence of her quaint little café.

At first, Rose could not see who it was, only the bundle of flowers he was carrying. However, when he set the flowers – roses, to be exact (what a coincidence!) – on the table next to hers, she looked into his eyes. They were brighter than the moon she’d drawn more than a hundred times. They were bluer than the ocean she’d captured more than two hundred times. They were beautiful.

“Good afternoon,” he greeted with a smile when he saw Rose staring at him as if he’d just saved her life.

Rose could not speak. All that was running through her head was what a charming smile he had.

“Might I ask your name?” the man said when Rose did not respond to his acknowledgement.

One word stammered out of her mouth. “R…Rose.”

“What a wonderful coincidence, Rose,” he said kindly. “I found these flowers lying on the road outside. Someone must’ve dropped them, so I collected them, and decided to give them to the first beautiful lady I met today.”

Rose managed to force a smile. This was the attention she’d been craving her whole life, and in this moment, she could barely get a word out! How pathetic!

The man turned around, pulled a beautiful white rose from the bouquet, and once again planted his crystal clear blue eyes on Rose. “I believe that that beautiful lady would be you, Rose.”

He handed the beautiful flower to her, and the instant their hands touched when Rose took it from him, she knew she was in love.

Over the next few months, Rose saw a lot of him. She found out many interesting things about him – including his name, which happened to be Sean. Sean Davis.

Rose loved sunflowers, but Sean taught her to love the whole garden. Rose loved To Kill a Mockingbird, but Sean taught her to appreciate the entire library. Rose loved chamomile tea, but Sean taught her to be obsessed with coffee. Rose loved being alone, but Sean taught her to live for the two of them being together.

On the 22nd of April 2001, Rose and Sean had been dating for just over three years. It was a Sunday, and Sean had asked Rose to meet him that afternoon because he needed to tell her something. Of the three years they had been together, Rose had been praying for a marriage proposal. And so, when Sean told her he wanted to tell her something, her mind had jumped straight to that thought and would not move away from it. She spent all day singing while she cleaned, whistling while she did the laundry, and dancing while she cooked.

When four o’clock came, Rose turned her wardrobe inside out to find the perfect outfit. She decided to be a little bit sentimental, and picked out the exact white frilly dress dotted with pink roses that she’d worn on the very first day they’d met in the coffee shop. As she pulled the dress out of the cupboard, a rose fell to the floor in front of her. It was no longer colourful, but withered and dead. However, despite how ugly the rose might’ve been, it held beautiful memories. Feelings came rushing back. Rose remembered the tingling she felt in the tips of her fingers when Sean’s hand had first touched hers. She hadn’t believed in love at first sight until Thursday, the 3rd of April 1997.

When she was dressed and ready, Rose left the house and followed the familiar path to her favourite coffee shop. It would be like a re-enactment of the day she met Sean, except this time he wouldn’t hand her a rose, he’d slip a ring onto her finger. When Rose reached the café, she took a deep breath before walking inside. Sean was sitting at the exact table she’d been sitting in on the day they met. Her favourite little table in the corner by the window.

“Rose! There you are,” Sean greeted when he saw her.

His sparkling blue eyes still sent shivers of warmth down Rose’s spine.

“The dress – you look just as gorgeous as you did the day I met you.” Sean smiled brilliantly, reaching across the table to take her hand as she sat down.

“Why thank you,” she said shyly. She loved it when Sean made her feel beautiful – like nothing in the world could matter more to him than she did.

Sean’s smile had suddenly disappeared, and he was starting to look nervous.

How sweet! Rose thought to herself, trying to contain her joy. He’s scared to propose to me!

“Now, Rose, there’s something I have to say to you,” Sean began. “But before I do, I just want you to know that our love is real. It always has been real, and I’ve loved you with my whole heart for the last three years.”

Rose nodded, trying to pay attention to his words rather than getting lost in his eyes.

“But I have a confession.”

This was taking an unexpected turn.

“The day we met, right here at this table, do you remember what I said to you, about the flowers?”

Rose acted like she was trying to wrack her brain for his exact words, but she’d had them inserted into her memory since the day he’d said them. “You said that someone had dropped them, and you’d picked them up, hoping to give them to the first beautiful lady you saw,” she recited.

Sean nodded, giving her a small smile. But it looked like a guilty smile. A regretful smile. A sad smile. “Exactly. Rose, I’m here to tell you that I did not find those flowers on the road. I didn’t collect them to give them to the first pretty woman I saw. The roses were for my wife.”

If the café had been noisier, it would’ve been interrupted with a loud crack. Rose’s heart had just snapped in two.

Rose let go of Sean’s hands and shoved hers under the table so that he was oblivious of how much they were shaking. “Your…wife?” she whispered, using all the effort left in her to hold in the sob that was desperately trying to escape from her throat.

“I’m married, Rose. But like I said before, our love has been real! I love you, Rose! When I saw you in the coffee shop – this coffee shop, I was immediately attracted to your beauty. And as I got to know you better, I gradually fell in love with you. I am in love with you.”

As if a sudden crack of thunder had shaken the walls of the café, Rose’s waterfall began. The tears came, and came, and came, and there was nothing Rose could do to stop them. She didn’t know whether to be angry, upset, or confused. If she was completely honest with herself, she knew that she was all three.

“Sean, how could you do this to me?” she choked through sobs. “How could you be merciless enough to make me fall in love with you, when really, it was all one big stupid game?”

“It wasn’t a game, Rose! This isn’t a game!”

Ignorance overcame Rose, and the whole world felt as if it was in slow motion as she stood and turned her back on the love of her life. Sean Davis was something much more than a crack in the pavement. He was a volcano waiting to erupt, a landslide beginning to fall, an avalanche starting to glide. Sean Davis was the Grand Canyon.

~~~

When I pulled into our driveway two hours later, Grace was crying, my heart was beating, and Aunt Ruth was staring out the window.

“Aunt Ruth!” Grace cried, wiping her eyes. “How come you never became a writer? You’ve got so much emotion! Where do you come up with it all?”

As if the world had been put on pause, Aunt Ruth didn’t move. The only words that came out of her mouth were quiet. Distant. As if she was in a dream.

“I didn’t come up with it, my dear. Rose’s full name was Ruth Rose Ailer, and Sean Davis did much, much more than just forming the Grand Canyon. He broke my heart.”

 

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